In the late summer of 1944 Germany was in serious trouble. The Red Army was approaching from the east while the Western Allies were doing the same through France and Italy. Clearly Germany could not win as things stood, but there was hope. Either the much trumpeted wonder-weapons might tip the military balance, or else Stalin’s Russia might fall out with his allies and they might start fighting each other. Perhaps all that Germany needed to do was hold on until things changed for the better, but to do that required more men, so on 18th October 1944 Himmler announced the creation of the Volkssturm, whereby any able man aged 16 to 60 might be liable to fight. In theory it created millions more soldiers for the Reich, but in practice German industry could not even adequately supply the Army with the weapons they needed, never mind all these new ‘troops’, and the Volkssturm would soon find it also lacked many uniforms and much training. Some did fight and die, but the widespread scepticism of the general population proved to be accurate and creation of the Volkssturm was no more than a desperate measure that delivered no significant military advantage.
In view of the chronic weapons shortage, the Volkssturm were always going to be at the back of the queue for supplies, and many who were activated were given foreign weapons (often Italian) for which very little ammunition was available or could be procured. Others got old weapons brought out of store, and while some did get the standard 98k rifle, these had to be passed to the Army when their need became greater. Propaganda photos with modern, new weapons were often faked, and the weapons were handed back once the photograph was taken. A couple of the poses in this small set have rifles (one quite possibly the VG-2), one is lucky enough to have an MP40 submachine gun, and another is holding a Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr or similar, one of several simplified weapons made for the Volkssturm to try and fill the weapons gap. One man is even carrying an obsolete Lewis gun, but the most recognisable weapon associated with the Volkssturm is the Panzerfaust, of which there are several here. Because this weapon was cheap to produce and easy to use, it was used in huge numbers, so good to see it in this set.
When there was any sort of a uniform at all it was scrapped together from all manner of organisations both military and civilian. Luftwaffe, police and Party uniforms were much used, often redyed grey, but frequently the poor ‘soldiers’ simply had to wear whatever civilian garb they could obtain. To indicate their military nature, and so not be treated as partisans by the enemy, they were given arm bands to wear on the upper left arm, and several of these poses have this. How much protection this gave, especially on the eastern front, is best imagined, but there is not otherwise a lot of uniform on show on these figures. Several have a greatcoat or coat, which could have come from any of many sources and has several different styles. The first figure in the top row does have a tunic and trousers plus a helmet, and so is the best-dressed man here and shows how the ideal uniform was supposed to look. The two figures on the right of each row look like they wear Party clothing. In the first row we have what may be a Hitler Youth member, with shirt, tie and dagger at his waist, and below him a man with a peaked cap, which could have been from all manner of sources but may well be part of the Party. Everything here is authentic and reasonable, and the clothing generally is a good mix.
We have ignored one figure so far: the woman in the second row cannot possibly be part of the Volkssturm as only men were eligible. There are propaganda films and photos showing women being trained to use Panzerfausts, for example, and with the reputation of the Red Army when it came to foreign women many German women dreaded their approach with good reason. Exactly how many women took up arms to defend the Reich we do not know, but we feel that this figure is not impossible but certainly much less common than the rest of them. She wears a jacket and skirt, and also a beret on the head, and is suitably dressed for the period.
We can have no complaints about any of the poses, all of which feel very appropriate and nicely animated. We particularly liked the figure carrying a Panzerfaust and keeping his head down (second row, figure one), and the second figure in the top row twisting his body is an interesting pose too. The man apparently shooting the Lewis gun from the hip is about the weakest one here because of the difficulty of what he is doing, but everything here is pretty good, and by no means flat. Indeed the sculpting generally is remarkably fine, with some great faces and very good detail on all the weapons. About the only area of concern is the hands, which are often tiny and so not entirely convincing, but they are the exception. Even more remarkably, there is very little flash anywhere, and certainly these are clean enough to be no disgrace to any manufacturer, which is high praise indeed for Mars.
We are going to go out on a limb here, and say this is the best set Mars have so far made. Now that is not particularly high praise as most of their work until recently has been very poor, but these are nicely sculpted, well-animated and with very little flash. Added to that the costume and weaponry are both excellent, and the poses are well chosen and well realised. We will turn a blind eye to the woman in an all-male organisation, because in every other respect this is a very fine set indeed, and her role as a more generic civilian fighter means she is still a useful figure. It is a real pleasure to see such an improvement in a manufacturer of long standing, and for the first time ever we can say we thoroughly recommend this set from Mars!